I have been involved in worship for as long as I can remember. I’m convinced that it’s nearly impossible to define what it means to worship God in a single phrase. Worship is a lifestyle, worship is an attitude, worship is all about God, worship is a form of spiritual warfare, worship can heal the soul. The reality is, all of that is true, worship is all of those things and more.
Worshipping God is a bit of a lost art in modern church culture. There are many misunderstandings about worship and I’d like to highlight 5 of them. I hope this list will help you get a better understanding of what it means to truly worship God.
1. Singing songs is my worship to God
A lot of people believe that worship begins and ends with music, singing and/or listening to “worship” songs. But music is not, in and of itself, worship. While music can be a very enjoyable part of honoring and loving God, real worship is all about obeying and pleasing God through our actions, attitudes and thoughts. Music is a small (although important) part of a lifestyle that aims to please God.
2. Praise is celebration (fast songs). Worship is intimacy (slow songs)
I remember that is how we defined praise and worship back in the day. You start a gathering with some fast music (“praise”) then you transition into slower music (“worship”). Again, the misconception here is that worship is a “thing” you do. But worship is in fact a desire to obey and please God. Worship is not about fulfilling a religious obligation, it’s about showing God just how thankful we are for His faithfulness and goodness towards us. That is done through our obedience to Him.
3. True worship is when “the glory” is felt in a gathering
The tingles, goosebumps, hair standing up, the “feels.” Many people believe that true worship is occurring when we feel a certain way. But when was the last time you were ridiculed because of your faith but you stood firm in your beliefs? Or when you stood up for God while He was being mocked. Or when you chose to go against the “flow” of this world because you know it dishonors God. Did it give you the tingles? Probably not, it probably hurt and I’m sure it was very difficult. Many times, true worship (obedience to God) won’t give you the “feels” but you know it honors God. I’ll admit though, I love when I hear a well written song that has just the right melody to strike an emotional response in me (gives me goosebumps or the “feels”). But based on that alone, it doesn’t mean it was “true” worship. Maybe I just really like that song.
4. Certain songs and/or styles are considered more “worship” than others
One big misconception about worship is this idea that I get to decide what God likes and enjoys. I remember growing up listening to ministers on the radio and TV saying “y’all playin that devil music in the church!” They argued that true worship was “the ‘ol gospel hymns” and modern/contemporary music was dishonoring to God. Maybe they didn’t know it, but those very same styles of music were also being played at the time in the clubs and bars by famous artists such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Elvis Presley. Thankfully, we now have learned a great lesson because of that, the power of purpose over preference. The purpose of worship through music should get us to acknowledge the goodness and worthiness of God. That purpose should far exceed our preference.
5. Worship is a purely personal experience
“It’s me and God and forget everyone else.” That was my attitude for many years. I truly believed that worship was something that was between me and God and us alone. Then I realized the importance of worshiping God with others. There is a tremendous power in acknowledging God together and encouraging one another at the same time. Worship is personal but it's also communal. In fact, we are commanded to gather and worship together. Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV) says: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”